Embedded Android is Google's open-source AndroidOS when used as the operating system on custom-designed, application-specific electronic circuit boards.  Barr Group Principal Engineer Nathan Tennies talks about the latest trends, pros and cons of Embedded Android for Automotive Applications.

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Andrew Girson:  Hi, everyone.  I'm here with Nathan Tennies, Principal Engineer of Barr Group and the creator of our Embedded Android Boot Camp training course.  We're here to talk about Embedded Android.  So Nathan, we did the survey earlier this year on Embedded System Safety and Security and we asked about operating systems and Android as in an embed operating system got very little support, only about 3% of the respondents were using it, were interested in it.  Yet I'm noticing in our industry and in our market and in what we do that Embedded Android interest is growing over the last several months.  So I'm wondering why you think that's occurring.

Nathan Tennies:  Well, I think a couple things are happening.  One is that, Android is based on Linux.  And in that last survey we did I think 20% of the respondents said that they were using Linux on their embedded devices.

Andrew:  Right.  That's true.

Nathan:  So, you know, if you are -- So it's clearly becoming more popular in the industry and if you are developing a Linux device that needs a modern GUI, then Android is a great choice.  I think the other reason though is we're starting to see Google make inroads into some other embedded markets.  So they started off in handhelds, they went on to wearables, they went on to a setup boxes and TVs, and now they're starting to make inroads into the automotive space.  So two years ago they released Android Auto which is an application that runs on your Smartphone and essentially let's your phone drive the infotainment system in your car.

Andrew:  Okay.

Nathan: But in May of this year, they made an announcement with Qualcomm that they were developing an infotainment system based on Android.

Andrew:  Okay.

Nathan: And we're starting to see the first fruits of that already in, end of August they released some documentation showing the architecture, there's a vehicle hardware abstraction layer and they also documented a bunch of the APIs.  And we're also now starting to see that code show up in the Android seven codebase.

Andrew:  Okay.  That's interesting.  I mean, Automotive is a big, you know, market opportunity. Android, you know, seems to be fit there; but, you know, there's a lot of other options there.  I mean, Winriver has an option, Apple has an option QNX has an option.  What are some of the advantages or unique features of Embedded Android that would make it good for an automotive operating system?

Nathan:  Well, for one Android is based on Linux and has support for thousands of pieces of hardware.  There's very good board package support in the industry it has a good STK, good tools.  There are literally millions of Android app developers out there.

Andrew:  Right.

Nathan: It's open source.  So you have access to all the source code.  And there are no licensing fees at least for the kernel and the core Android OS.  We don't know what's going to happen with this infotainment system, but I think the biggest advantage is probably, probably applications.  So Google has literally spent a decade refining Google Maps and their speech recognition software and messaging.  I think it's going to be challenging for other platforms to compete with the level of quality we see on Android platforms.  In addition to that, there are third party applications.  And so right now on Android Auto, that's primarily limited to audio and messaging applications, but I think we'll also start to see more applications, more types of applications come out over the next few years.  And that also includes custom applications created by the automakers themselves.

Andrew:  Okay.  So that's-- Those are some of the advantages of android, but what would be some of the disadvantages or cons or reasons one might choose another platform besides android for automotive.

Nathan: I think there are three.  One is real-time capabilities.  So Linux doesn't have very strong real-time capabilities, they’ve added in some real-time features of the last few years.  There are work rounds like patches or running a, you know, an RTOS on a separate core or using a hypervisor and in fact, that's what VX works infotainment platform does.  It's based on Linux that runs VX works using a hypervisor.

Andrew:  Okay.

Nathan: The second one is that these are big complex code bases.  And so if you're developing a safety critical device that's always a bit of a concern.  In addition to that, you won't have a source code for the Google applications themselves.  On the flip side, that's not that unusual for infotainment platforms.  They are usually complex code bases and they incorporate libraries, you know, mapping and speech recognition that you don't necessarily have to source code for anyway.  I think the, and the third one is security.  Google has obviously had some struggles with that over the years with Android.  They've made a lot of improvements and now it's based on security enhanced Linux and they've actually added some additional security features around the vehicle hardware abstraction layer in this new infotainment platform.

Andrew: Okay.  Interesting.  Well, I know, I'll be watching embedded android.  Thank you, Nathan.  I appreciate you time.

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